Winning the first three games last year helped Vanderbilt first-year coach James Franklin turn doubters into believers. That included his own players.
A year later, Franklin insists a 0-2 hole hasn’t detracted from his mission to turn around the program. His team still believes, he says, but other emotions are visible too.
“I think they believe. I think they’re [mad] and I think they’re disappointed,” Franklin said on Monday at his weekly press conference. “Because we know we can be better and they know how hard they’ve worked. Whenever you work really hard and you invest in something and you don’t have the type of success you think you deserve that is hard for all of us. But, you know, adversity shapes character and this is a great opportunity for us to come even closer as a team, support one another and find a way to fight through this.
“I think there is another team [Georgia] in this league that started last year 0-2 and ended up playing in the [SEC] championship. There is a lot of season left. Our focus is on this week and having an opportunity and going out and righting the ship.”
History, as always, is against Vanderbilt. The Commodores never have reached a bowl when they have started 0-2. They’ve lost the first two games of the season 22 times.
They hope to avoid the first 0-3 start since 2004 when they host Presbyterian on Saturday (11:30 a.m., CSS, Channel 27). The Blue Hose (1-1), of the Football Champiobship Subdivision, lost 59-3 to Georgia Tech on Saturday.
Presbyterian offers a reprieve after opening with two BCS opponents that reached bowls in 2011 — No. 9 South Carolina and Northwestern of the Big Ten.
“I don’t know if you’re going to find another team in the country that’s opened with two BCS opponents ... [including] a returning bowl team that you’re playing on the road,” Franklin said. “I think people have to keep things in perspective. ... We’re not as far off as people may think and that’s what we talked to the players about as well. It’s a little play here. It’s a little more focus here and it’s about understanding this is not going to be fixed overnight. It’s a process.”
By means of comparison, several other schools, including at least one in the SEC, opened with two BCS opponents. Auburn played both Clemson and Mississippi State. Northwestern's first opponent, Syracuse, followed with a game against preseason No. 1 USC. Then, of course, Savannah State played at Oklahoma State and Florida State.
Junior Wesley Johnson admits the Commodores got a little ahead of themselves.
After surprising many with six wins and just the fifth bowl in school history, the left tackle said confidence spilled over the team. But it might have been misplaced.
“I think that’s on us as a team. I think we were complacent,” Johnson said. “I don’t know if you can say we got entitled. ... We didn’t handle what little success we had last year very well. I guess because we obviously weren’t very used to it. Now, we talked about it [Sunday], we’re coming back. We’re going to start playing with that edge, with a chip on our shoulder. We’re going to fight hard.”